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  • janmurgatroyd

Addictions

Updated: Mar 26

Addictions are defined as the psychological or physical dependence on a substance (such as alcohol or drugs) or a behaviour (such as gambling, work or gaming) despite its harm to the self and/or others.


Addictions are coping mechanisms and a way we attempt to soothe our nervous system. Addictions are a response to pain, to perceived emotional abandonment, and an attempt to regulate a dysregulated nervous system.


When we can't self-soothe in healthy ways, we find ways to soothe ourselves that provide temporary relief; a temporary relief that comes at a long term cost. Some examples of addictive substances and behaviours are alcohol, work, sex, food, exercising, dieting, legal and illegal drugs, perfectionism, shopping, shop-lifting, sex, porn, social media and any other types of media.


There is much shame and stigma around addiction, but the reality is addictive behaviours are maladaptations. Our body is seeking something to help calm our internal sensations and our intense, overwhelming, racing thoughts. People suffering from addictions are actually suffering from an inability to self-regulate.


The way we handle stress and cope with life depends on our ability to self-regulate. When we cry as babies, we cannot self regulate. We need a predictable, open and regulated adult to calm (or soothe) us. It's through this process (called attunement) that our nervous system returns to a calm, balanced, regulated state.


Children who develop self-regulation become adults who can handle stress and cope in healthy ways, rather than addictive behaviours.


As children, we don't understand that our parent figures have to work long hours, that society doesn't support parents, or why our parent figures are distracted, or why we spend so much time alone.  Children will internalize this as abandonment and develop shame based beliefs. Examples of shame based beliefs "I am unlovable, what I say doesn't matter, I am worthless, everyone will eventually leave me."


Shame is experienced by everyone with the capacity for empathy and connection. We are all afraid to talk about it, but the less we talk about it the more control it has over us. Connection is why we are here, along with love and belonging. Brene Brown has defined shame as "the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love, belonging and connection."


Shame thrives on secrecy, silence and judgement. Therefore it's undoing lies in reaching out, speaking your truth in a safe and non-judgmental environment.


For help with addictions and shame based beliefs, call Jan at Hope Island Clinical Psychology on 0451 477 334.

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